Baba Salah – “Dangay”
Northern Mali guitarist Baba Salah calls the city of Gao home. He and the people of Mali have found themselves in the middle of a horrendous occupation. The Northern half of Mali has been overrun by militant Islamist groups for many months following the Tuareg rebellion. Fortunately for Mali, French and British troops have deployed troops to support the army in their fight to end the spread of the harsh and unwanted Sharia law being forced upon Mali’s citizens. Recently French and Malian troops helped restore peace to Gao. People stood and smoked cigarettes in defiance of Sharia law and celebrated with music as their city became theirs again. Now the militant Islamist armies are unorganized and broken into pieces. Hopefully it is only a matter of time until complete control of Mali falls back into the hands of its’ citizens.
Baba Salah’s latest release, Dangay, is due out on CD February 5th courtesy of Studio Mali. Dangay translates to “The North” in Songhai, Baba’s native language. The album chronicles the occupation of Mali by the terrorists. The title track serves as a dedication to the people in Northern Mali. Their collective spirit and rich histories are not forgotten during this difficult time of displacement. Many people from places like Timbuktu and Gao have been forced to flee to Southern cities such as Bamako to protect themselves. Baba knows that Mali is strong and cannot be broken, a message that comes across in the lyrics to “Dangay,” which features Andra Kouyaté.
“Even at the cost of our lives, we need to join hands and fight. Mali is indivisible. One people, one goal, and one faith. People of the north of Mali, do not think we have forgotten you. We will soon free you from your captors.” – Baba Salah
Dangay touches upon many current social issues in Mali. “Ay Derey (I Am Lost)” addresses the loss of faith people experience when they lose their job and think the world is crumbling around them. “Zankay (Protect the Children)” and “Ize Foutou (Juvenile Delinquency)” discuss the troubles surrounding Mali’s youth. “Karaw (Heartfelt Cry)” is about a farmer who is struggling to survive as climate change and desertification destroy his livelihood. Babani Koné assists with the vocals on “Solei de Ma Vie (Sunshine of My Life),” a love song about struggling with the pressures of society and social standing to be with the one you love. On “Amidininé (Friendship Between Ethnic Groups),” Salah sings about friendship among Tamashek people.
Throughout this record, Baba Salah’s guitar playing shines. His careful choice of notes and repetitive riffs drive the songs into deep grooves as the rhythm section builds with intensity. Salah began playing guitar at the age of nine and he quickly excelled at the instrument. He gained a reputation for his skill and eventually he became one of Oumou Sangaré’s guitarists. His distinct style surrounds Dangay with an edge that reveals his passion for his homeland and the people of Mali.
For more insight into the situation in Mali, check out the interview The Wild magazine did with Baba Salah. If you love West African music, consider contributing to instruments4africa, a non-profit organization that gets instruments into the hands of young and underprivileged artists in the region to help preserve traditional arts and culture. Watch a live video of Baba Salah’s message at the Musicians for Mali concert, below.